Late Sunday, off the coast of Cyprus, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs captured the hijacked oil tanker Morning Glory from Libyan rebels. "No one was hurt tonight when U.S. forces, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and took control of the commercial tanker Morning Glory, a stateless vessel seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. President Obama authorized the raid just after 10 p.m. on Sunday.
U.S. forces will escort the ship back to a port controlled by Libya's central government, which is fighting various factions for possession of the country's vast oil reserves.
The story of the Morning Glory is complicated and slightly madcap, but with serious implications for Libya and Europe, which gets oil from the country via a pipeline to Italy. On March 1, the North Korea-flagged ship turned off its satellite transponder and a week later turned up in the eastern Libyan port of Es Sider, which is controlled by a rebel militia that is trying to sell oil from the region for its own profit. On March 10, the tanker left port carrying 234,000 barrels of oil.
If breakaway regions are allowed to sell oil on their own, the Libyan government will quickly go bankrupt. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan ordered the Morning Glory stopped, even if it meant sinking the vessel. With Libya's navy essentially nonexistent and its air force embroiled in its own infighting, the militia Zeidan sent out to stop the tanker failed. Parliament then sacked Zeidan, who subsequently fled to Germany. On March 13, North Korea revoked the Morning Glory's registration, making it a stateless vessel.
Contraband oil is harder to sell than you might think. Libya could still descend into civil war, as various militias battle for resources and influence. But now at least the rebels in the oil-rich east know the risks of trying to use a heavily watched and coveted international commodity as a weapon. Peter Weber
China will lose a third of its young men to smoking, according to devastating numbers reported by the British medical journal The Lancet. Researchers at Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Chinese Center for Disease Control worked on two different and geographically diverse studies 15 years apart, with hundreds of thousands of participants, to get their results. The findings revealed that smoking deaths in China are set to triple by 2050 to 3 million people a year — a population larger than the entire city of Chicago.
Smoking rates in the United States have halved in the past 50 years, and one in five deaths in the U.S. are linked to the habit. The decline in the States is in part due to aggressive anti-smoking public service campaigns that aren't as common in China, where "the belief that protective biological mechanisms specific to Asian populations make smoking less hazardous, that it is easy to quit smoking, and that tobacco use is an intrinsic and ancient part of Chinese culture" are widely accepted as true, the study reports. Half of the adults interviewed were unaware that smoking can cause strokes or heart disease; only 10 percent of Chinese smokers quit by choice.
The study additionally found that men who start smoking before age 20 had twice the mortality rate of non-smokers, and that for the two-thirds of Chinese men who take up smoking, half of them will die as a result. Women in China smoke significantly less than men, the BBC reports, with only 2.4 percent taking up the habit, as compared to more than half of Chinese men.
It will be no surprise at this point to hear that China is also the largest consumer of cigarettes in the world, with the average smoker lighting up 22 times a day. Read more about the findings in The Lancet. Jeva Lange
Joe Biden was none too happy with his super PAC's six-figure TV ad asking him to run for president, calling it "in poor taste" according to anonymous sources who spoke with the press. The super PAC, Draft Biden, has since responded by agreeing not to run the advertisement nationally, The Boston Globe reports. Titled "My Redemption," the ad showed images of Biden's family, including his late son Beau, with a sound clip of Biden's heart-wrenching speech about his personal tragedies that he gave at an address at Yale in May. The ad ended with two words on screen: Joe, run.
"The vice president appreciates that they are trying to help," a source "close to the vice president" told The Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "But he has seen the ad and thinks the ad treads on sacred ground and hopes they don't run it."
Others have criticized the super PAC of exploiting the tragic car accident that killed Biden's wife and daughter in 1972, and the brain cancer that killed Beau Biden earlier this year.
"Obviously we will honor his wishes," the senior adviser to the super PAC said in a statement. While Biden's supporters had planned to run the 90-second ad nationally, it had not yet been on air before it was yanked. Jeva Lange
The U.S. will no longer be training Syrian rebels, Obama administration officials said Friday. After the $500 million Pentagon program failed to produce ground combat forces that could effectively take on the Islamic State in Syria, The New York Times reports that the White House decided to pull the plug.
The program had initially promised to produce 5,000 capable fighters by the end of the year, a goal that officials admitted at the end of last month was "unattainable," Foreign Policy reports. The U.S. had suspended the recruitment of new fighters last month after the first two groups that were trained had "either been killed, handed over some of their equipment to the al Qaeda-backed al Nusra Front, or simply melted away," Foreign Policy says.
Pentagon officials are expected to make an official announcement Friday. Becca Stanek
With Syrian forces, backed by Russian and Iranian military assistance, attacking rebel troops and occupying their attention, Islamic State attacked the rebels from the other side on Thursday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. By Friday, ISIS had captured a string of towns and villages, starting with a rebel-held Syrian military base, north of Aleppo. Iran also blamed ISIS for the death Thursday afternoon of a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Hossein Hamedani, who Iranian state television said "martyred by Daesh [ISIS] terrorists while carrying out an advisory mission in the outskirts of Aleppo."
The surprise attack by ISIS was its biggest advance in months, The Associated Press reports, citing the Observatory. "Why didn't America attack Daesh fighters during their attack?" asked the group's director, Rami Abdurrahman. BBC News explains the complicated tangle of alliances and objectives in Syria in the video below. Peter Weber
Northern Arizona University said Thursday that one person was dead and three wounded overnight outside a dorm at the university's Flagstaff campus. The suspected shooter is in custody and the campus isn't on lockdown, the university added. NSU spokeswoman Cindy Brown didn't provide many details about the shooting, except that it was first reported at about 1:20 a.m. local time happened outside Mountain View Hall, a dormitory that ABC News says houses most of the students involved in Greek organizations. Peter Weber
The winner of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize isn't Pope Francis or German Chancellor Angela Merkel or any of the other high-profile objects of speculation. On Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prestigious prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a civic group, "for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011." The Quartet formed in 2013, in the chaos unleashed during the Arab Spring, and the Nobel committee gave the prize to the group rather than its four main member organizations — the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers — because they "represent different sectors and values in Tunisian society" and thus could "advance peaceful democratic development in Tunisia with great moral authority."
The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet didn't turn Tunisia into a peaceful oasis, the Nobel committee noted: The country still "faces significant political, economic, and security challenges." But the Norwegians said awarding the group the Nobel Peace Prize would serve as "an inspiration to all those who seek to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East, North Africa, and the rest of the world" and, more directly, "as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries." You can watch the announcement below. Peter Weber
Lena Dunham has an email newsletter about women's issues, and she opted for a newsletter because it's "kind of an intimate format," she told Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday's Kimmel Live. "We're reaching you in your inbox. You don't have to come to us, we're coming to you." But the newsletter isn't just about women's health, she said; it also includes interviews with political figures and a horoscope. Oh, Kimmel said, "you have a horoscope writer?" Yes, they have "an amazing woman," Dunham said, and Kimmel asked how she does her business. "Is she, like, 'Ah I feel like Pisces is going to have a great, positive day today'?"
Dunham said that the woman, a poet, does her astrological research and translates it into messages for readers. "Do you believe in any of that stuff?" Kimmel asked. "So much," Dunham said. "You do?" Kimmel asked. Dunham said she believes in horoscopes and psychics: "Mercury is in retrograde — if any of your technology is failing, that's what's been going on." Kimmel was bemused: "I find it hard to believe that you believe that." Dunham responded like any believer would: "I've felt its effects myself — a psychic told me when I was going to meet my boyfriend." It turned out, they do have one thing in common about psychics: Both of their mothers believe in them. Kimmel noted that his mother's psychic worked at a Pizza Hut. "It's hard to make a living on just your psychic abilities," Dunham pointed out. Watch the deep stuff below. Peter Weber